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In My Understanding

An old school gamer discusses the challenges facing the MMORPG community and it's leaders.

Author: jesad

Have we run out of good ideas? The MMORPG wars continued.

Posted by jesad Tuesday July 30 2013 at 3:23AM
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So in my last entry I discussed how I believed that the geeks were still fighting a war against the non-geeks over the experience that should be provided by an MMORPG.  That topic got me to thinking though...

It goes way deeper than just that.

I think that the real war being fought is the same war that is being fought in a variety of different places in business right now, which is the war between the business major and the liberal artist.

You might have heard it on the news lately that a lot of liberal arts colleges have been suffering from low enrollment numbers due to the lack of good jobs available for a liberal arts major in business world right now.

I have to ask you though, how does that happen?

How does the guy who creates the thing that another guy makes money off of end up on the outs while the guy whose only training is how to make money of of other people's creations ends up dominating the world?  Have we run out of good ideas?

Let's be clear here, a business majors only purpose in life is to run a business for a profit.  The various degrees and certificates that can be earned in business school are all geared towards that end, and the highest degrees that one can attain in that branch of education exist only to manage and run the lower levels.  The liberal arts major has absolutely nothing to do with all of that save that they are supposed to be the providers of the ideas that spark these companies into existence.

How then does a business major end up being the final word on what is beautiful?

I dare say that a business major would not even let something beautiful be seen in order to be verified as such unless they were charging you exorbitant prices just to come to the conclusion.  So I ask you again, how does a game that has been based on the imagination of a group of highly skilled liberal artists end up being torn apart and reduced to shreds by decisions made by a business major?

Did you guys forget what you were supposed to be doing or something?

Kallipolis is ruled by Philosopher Kings not Soldiers.

"A true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship" - Plato's Republic

And yet it seems that our Philosopher Kings have somehow fallen under the yoke of paying the rent, buying the wife a phat ring, making sure that the kids don't have to go to school with other kids that the kings don't like, instead of taking on the role of the creator and sole authority on how their creation should be presented.

I mean yeah, this is not new.  Edgar Allen Poe died in the gutter.  It has been a long romanticized story of the artist that they are never appreciated until after such appreciation would no longer serve them, but seriously.....really?

In the great long list of games that populate the games list of this website can we not find more than 3 or 4 products that actually got it right?

How is that even possible?

No, there are a great number of games on that list have have had some great ideas.  There's a lot of great art, a lot of great storytelling, and even a fair amount of decent gameplay.  But what more of them have in common than not is a blatant reconfiguration of their initial vision by soldiers whose only intention was to sap the most dollars, at the highest rates, out of their existence as possible.

Some were even created with nothing more than this in mind.

Meanwhile the masses are loosing faith in their philosopher kings.  We no longer believe that they are cool enough to try to emulate, nor do we believe that they are even kings anymore.  We now see them as something that we can talk to on our level (as if).  Someone that we can call by their first name and spit obscenities at because they didn't create a flower the exact way that we though a flower should be created.

Are you kidding me?

I want to be taken on a ride!

Not only do I not need to feel superior right out of the gate, but I would prefer to feel completely freaking lost!  Others will say that they do not prefer this, but I am willing to stand up right now, right here, and in plain sight and say that THEY ARE WRONG.

A child can never tell an adult what it feels like to be an adult.  Every adult can tell a child what it feels like to be a child.  Therefore it is ridiculous to allow a child to rule over an adult ever.  What they think is unfair, we know is necessary.  What they think is cool we know is dangerous to their survival. 

What they think tastes bad we know requires a cultivated palette.

And so the idea that we must stay in first grade in order to get all the milk money that these kids have to offer, instead of continuing to progress towards a better tomorrow is ridiculous.

Apply this theory to what you may, but I know what I am talking about.

In my understanding, if there is a business major making the final call on concepts like whether your game goes with the easymode concept or whether your game goes with the more difficult concept, if there is a business major making the final call on whether you go subscriber or free to play, how much you will ultimately charge or what you will ultimately end up charging for...

You are screwing up!

The business majors should be giving you the numbers you need in order to make the final call on these and other complicated decisions.  In this they are of the utmost importance and I do not suggest that you attempt to completely cut them out of the picture because that is, after all, what they were trained to do.  But YOU are the creator of this thing of beauty, and only YOU can complete that creation by acknowledging that presentation is just a big a part of art as getting to get your hands all messy with pretty colors and whatnot.

The Liberal Artist must rise and take their proper place in business!!

This has been a public service announcement.

Geeks - Still at war on their own turf

Posted by jesad Tuesday July 23 2013 at 4:49AM
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Everyone up to at least 50 years old can remember that one group of kids from Junior High (Middle School to you kids born in the 70's) who used to stay after school to play D&D.

D&D, or Dungeons and Dragons, was a game system invented by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax that had been played by mostly college kids since 1974.  By the mid to late 80's however, many of these college kids had gone on to become teachers, and Dungeons and Dragons had come along with them to the middle schools and senior highs where they would teach.

It all started out so quietly.

Four or five kids who either couldn't wrestle or didn't feel comfortable with the whole "getting in the doggy style position, wrestling around on the floor, and then taking a shower together thing" would meet after school with their books in hand, and sit around a classroom table playing a very intricate form of make-believe.  There were rules and dice and sometimes even miniatures and maps.  All one really needed though was the books, a set of dice, and one guy with a firm understanding of the rules to administer the story.

This was the geeks version of fun.  And although it didn't win them any trophies, and it didn't help them score with the opposite sex (although a gamer girl as always been a gamer girl), it was something that allowed them to socialize and to act out on certain child-like fantasies that involved their imaginations.

Many an artist, writer, and even business manager can claim a D&D background, because D&D was a thinking persons game.  There were prerequisites to being able to play it.  For one you had to know how to read.  You also needed to know how to add, subtract, multiply, and even do a little algebra here and there (although you probably didn't know it was algebra back then). 

You also had to learn to act.  To open the part of yourself up that allowed you to be potentially goofy in front of another person.  You had to learn how to think on your feet, possibly make mistakes, and learn the value of things like teamwork, and the completion of a lengthy campaign.

So it was of not small circumstance probably, the first time you heard that one of your favorite forms of play was going to be made into a video game.

"Why not?" you may have thought.  "I like video games, and I like D&D! How could this go wrong?!?"

But you didn't know.

You didn't know that buy turning one of your favorite pastimes, something you did among only your closest friends, into a publicly accessible massively multiplayer online role playing game, that you would end up sacrificing the very things that made that game the most fun, namely, the ability to geek out.

Now there is a war being fought.  A war between the people who always wanted to be like you and the people who really are like you.  Your small faction of previously reclusive after school role-players, weekend live action role-players (LARP'ers), and comic book readers was not enough to properly maintain the massive monetary needs of the companies that created the games for you, and so they opened the door to the kids who had only "heard" about what kind of fun you all were having, and instantly things like "role-playing", "teamwork", "grouping", and "partying" went out the window.

Your little after school session of make-believe was mutated into a wrestling match using computer animated cartoon characters.  This was complete with all the bells and whistles of constantly having to remain competitive, alpha male syndrome, jocks, and etc...

And what's worse is that you can't even fix it.  Any attempt to try or even mention returning to the old days of hanging with friends, going on adventures, exploring things just for the sake of exploring, or finishing a lengthy campaign is now met with comment after comment of disdain from the voices of people who never even cared about the game before you made it cool.

Geeks are still at war on their own turf.  And pretty soon the only thing left to do will be to return to the old ways of "game by invite only'.  I'm building a room in the basement as we speak.

Did you know that Gygax ran a weekly game until the day he died?

Never give up on your version of fun.



Is the MMO community even worthy of a genuinely good title?

Posted by jesad Tuesday July 2 2013 at 5:36AM
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If you've found your way to this blog the odds are that you've already been to the forums of this site and possibly others, and have seen the clamoring of the masses, lamentation of the women, and general violence inherent in the system (thank you, Conan the Barbarian and Monty Python).

MMO gamers everywhere have taken to whatever forums, message boards, and soapboxes they could find to expound upon why they believe that MMO-X "sucks", "rules", "could be better", or "couldn't be worse".  Alongside every gripe, complaint, redesign, and measure of praise is usually an equal amount of disdain, explanation, and sometimes all out aggression towards whatever position is being taken in the original post.

Quite often these exchanges can become quite analytical too, as many of the participants not only come from educated backgrounds, but have been playing, programming, testing, or some other form of participation in these games, for years.

The thing is though, throughout all of this time, ever since that very first little online role playing game that enough people heard about to make it special, people have been skipping through these things as though the hundred's and hundred's of man-hours that went into creating them was nothing more than some worthless byproduct of a game that was really meant to be raged through to it's ultimate conclusion.

Recent blogs by other writers far more involved in this process than this one even admit to this trend causing the developers of these kinds of games to exploit and capitalize on this kind of behavior by making "cookie cutter" titles that were high on ascetics while remaining fairly low on the side of innovation.

In fact promises are being made, as you read this, to return to the days of the legendary "Sandbox" and the even more mythical "persistent online virtual world" by developers and companies that could genuinely bring such concepts to reality.  But all the while, in the back of everyone's mind, there is still this one nagging question.

Are we worthy?

Can we, as a community of consumers, really live up to a play-style and time investment needed to not only populate, but maximize the experience provided by a world generated entirely for the intent of stealing our free (and sometimes not so free) time and money?

The first min/maxers were born out of the necessity to skirt around specific game mechanisms that were deemed "time wasters" in order to get the most out of their $15 per month subscription fees.  What then would keep this same sensibility from pipelining the path of least resistance through pretty much any title any developer could make, save for possibly the type which did not involve any kind of progression of any kind, which would be ......impossible?

Mechanisms native to all MMO's like gear, levels, and money represent a persistent means for any player to "skirt" pass content in order to jump those lower rungs on the ladder of progression and get to the best gear/level/money in the game.  How then will anyone ever keep this from happening ever again?  And why would anyone stay and play a game where they couldn't do this if there was a place just as pretty, and just as populated where they could?

Case in point. 

Vanguard - Sure, it had a rough start.  Over time however it has matured in to a heck of a world to play in.  Users have upgraded their computers in order to handle it's resource demanding engine, and for all intents and purposes, the game, and the world, should be getting plenty of attention as it finally comes into itself in these ways.

Vanguard is a ghost town.  The reason?  Those that were willing to play it in the first place have all progressed through most, if not all of it's content, and the wide, wide world left behind is skipped over by pretty much anyone who jumps in the game now.

Everquest 2 - Massive by anyone's standards.  A variety of races, zones, story lines and options for the average player to take advantage of.  Several expansions deep.  Rich in lore and beauty.

Ghost town.  Same thing.  The old wait for expansions, pop in, power through them, then go away again, the new power through to meet up with the old by the time they return.  No real mechanisms for persistent living exist, and so no persistent living is taking place within that game.

World of Warcraft - The one to rule them all.  Much like the previous two titles massive, expanded upon, deep.  Sure, by their own admission they created this game to be this way, and it has worked for them.  But still, even giants must fall.  A meager ghost of it's former self.

But these are old titles right?  Surely they must only be struggling because of their age!

Aion - Ghost town

Rift - Ghost town

FFXI - Ghost town

GW2 - Under utilized.

Age of Wushu - Severely under utilized.

The Secret World - Severely under utilized.

The list can go on and on.

We watch these cartoons like .Hack// and Sword Art Online, these movies like the Lord of the Rings (who's mmo title is yet another under utilized one), and television shows like Game of Thrones, and we imagine these places where we could go to have experiences like the ones we see.  And yet we get into these games and within one day to a week we allow some know, that one guy who is in every game....change our direction from that of an adventurer to that of someone in petty competition with someone else over what level they are, how rich they are, or what gear they managed to get to fall.

How can we ever be worthy of a world if all we do in that world is grind?  Where are the megalomaniacs?  The would be usurpers?  The information brokers?  And the all out thieves?

Is our best idea of a role-player that one kid from the bathroom in the movie "Smoking Aces"?  Or do we have people who are actually willing to follow an order, put out a hit on someone or see that hit through?  Collect some taxes for allowing the use of a road?  Or offer protection for a nominal fee?  Set yourself up as the law, or as a serious, organized criminal element.  Anyone can be a psychopath, but can you be a real one?  The kind that doesn't ooc because they are feeling lonely?

Plain out take over some stuff and just not give it back, or be willing to to fight to not let that happen?

Are we worthy of this kind of experience?  Or will the frustration that comes with it just cause us to log off and take a nap?

That is the question.  All the rest is bunk.  They have built it already and we didn't come.

So the next time you log into one of these games think about it, "Am I really being all that I could be?"

Bottom line, that person next to you will probably never meet you in real life, and this is your only shot at really helping them, and in turn yourself, enjoy this experience of this different world.

Lighten up a little then willya?  Kill/extort/steal from someone in game for some messed up reason and let them know why you did it.  It might make your day/week/month a lot more interesting.  And it might make both you and them worthy of the actual experience.

At least, that's how it seems in my understanding.

See you in the games.